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Greyhound abandoning little towns? Say it isn’t so


I usually don’t take it personally when a large corporation changes its business plan. But when Greyhound Lines Inc. announced that it’s knocking 260 small-town stops off its schedule between Chicago and Seattle, I felt a pang.

Greyhound buses ran right past our house twice a day when I was a kid in State Center, one heading east and one heading west. I would read the destination signs above the windshields – San Francisco, Denver, New York – and marvel at this connection to the outside world.

For a long time, I had a Greyhound-based plan. Some of us kids could take the bus to Marshalltown some day, goof around, and take the next bus home. Wouldn’t that be great? Not particularly, said my friends. So that adventure never happened, and the first time I boarded the Greyhound was to head off to Chicago for my first real job.

In those days, you caught the bus at Watson’s Grocery Store, a bit of Americana even then. It featured a wonderfully creaky wood floor, beautiful wood cabinets, a spool of string over the counter for wrapping bundles and a photograph of Dwight Eisenhower that stayed on the wall as lesser presidents came and went.

Several bus rides back and forth followed over the next two years, and eventually the driver would drop me off right at my mother’s front door. I had been right all along: It was fun to take the bus to Marshalltown. But all the following miles were more like an endurance test. With various stops and a transfer in Cedar Rapids or Iowa City, each one-way trip soaked up 10 hours.

The westbound leg was a challenge even before it began, because departure time from the Loop was 2 a.m. That meant riding downtown on the El in the scary Chicago night. After somebody fired a couple of shots at trains on the Ravenswood line, I would sit in a brightly lit car feeling like an excellent target.

But it was all fairly uneventful. The most interesting character at the terminal was an earnest young guitar player, the classic cool rebel of that era, confident that he would change the world. The most memorable seatmate was a young woman calling herself Glory Lee, a country singer heading for the next gig with her band, the Dixie Chords.

I don’t expect to ever ride a Greyhound again. Lots of people seem to share that feeling, judging by the empty seats. But let’s give credit where it’s due: The bus really did take me from my quaint little hometown to a big, exciting city, just like the signs had always promised.

Now Greyhound is giving up its role as a link for all of those little towns in the middle of nowhere, and Watson’s Grocery is a museum — a delightful souvenir of the past, but awfully quiet without Ralph, Florence and their customers. And Glory Lee probably gets to bed at a reasonable hour every night instead of speeding through the Midwestern darkness for her date with destiny.

So the world really has changed. I hope that guitar player is happy.

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